Let’s talk hair shame. Not ‘bad hair day,’ but hair shame as in being convinced that you have a bad hair gene - a bad hair life. Hair shame that motivates women to spend a fortune to fry, perm, cover, or change natural hair into anything different from what Mother Nature made. So, join me for a tale a two hair styles - wig versus afro, and the politics there within.
What’s in a hairstyle? A Black woman can go from revolutionary to assimilated in 2 minutes with a straight wig and hair pins. Trans-racial celebrity, Racheal Dolezal, changed her hair to kinky to transition from White to Black. In South Africa, people instantly went from White to Black from rain drops kinking up their straight hair. When kinky hair determines your race and class, poverty class, hair shame grows. Comedian Paul Mooney linked straight hair and survival by joking, “if your hair is relaxed, White people are relaxed.”
So, does long fake hair always mean you are short on self-esteem? While hair can judge a Black woman ugly or pretty, is it more than that? Can hair texture make social mobility, wealth, respect and dating easy or difficult? When Black men say they ‘hate fake hair,’ further examination reveals that Black men like, and even prefer, fake hair - if it looks natural.
As with most body shame issues, women are taught the opposite of normal is what defines beauty. So, if short gravity defying Black kinky hair is normal, then White or Asian long flowing hair is considered beautiful. ‘Bad hair (kinky/standing up)’ versus ‘good hair (flowing/hanging down)’ is so acculturated that comedian Chris Rock explored this issue in his documentary “Good Hair.”
Hair texture shame is so ingrained in the African-American culture that Madam CJ Walker, born 2 years after legal slavery ended (1867), became the 1st Black female millionairess by teaching Black women around the globe how to straighten their hair.
Personally, I have lived hair shame and struggled to embrace my natural hair texture. While I have not colored or permed my hair for years, I do straighten it, wear it kinky, or wear wigs. The difference my hairstyle makes can be remarkable.
I have experienced both the economic and social complexities of flowing fake hair versus natural kinky hair. With fake or straight hair, I was offered middle management high paying jobs, a contract with the top modeling agency in the U.S., and asked out by countless men. With an afro, I was offered a $15 an hour job, bypassed for some media appearances, and given the Black power ‘you go head’ salute by men walking past me to ask out the woman with a fake weave. I will wear my natural hair, but fake hair is sometimes the uniform I wear for beauty compliance.
So, while hairstyles can still have social and economic consequences, self-rejection should not be one of them. Additionally, complicated hairstyles are another way women are encouraged to use their resources, time, and wealth on beautification instead of upward mobility. Consider the downside versus payoff before your over identify with, and over invest in, your hair.
The real tragedy of hair shame in all communities is that hormone disrupters, cancer causing agents, weight gaining chemicals, and fertility disrupting hormones are all included in hair care products whether women go kinky, curly or straight. Many women place status over health when it comes to hair. Often, African-American women get fixated on hair texture, and consider cancer infused, dyed or chemicalized kinky hair “natural” because it is not straight. Meanwhile, wigs that cause the least amount of chemicals to go into the body are denigrated. Plus, natural unchemicalized hair can be worn under a wig. So, yes, you can keep it real with fake hair. And, women can have their preferred style without poisoning themselves (or changing their political agenda).
Wherever you stand on the hair issue, don’t fall for hair shame. Your natural hair is beautiful whether or not it fits the beauty standard of the day. Beauty standards reward compliance over appearance, so your genetics are never the issue. So, whether you choose an afro or a hair piece, choose hair peace.
At the Sisterhood of Body Peace, we address the silent killer of shame - body shame, hair shame, or any other form of shame. Remember what Dr. Brené Brown said: “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive.” So, come and share with us, shamelessly. Women have up to 13 negative body image thoughts per day and we aim to do our part to change that statistic - one woman at a time. Join us